Vitamin B12: what it is, what it is for, benefits, where it is found, deficiency and when to supplement

Vitamin B12: what it is, what it is for, benefits, where it is found, deficiency and when to supplement. in this article; What is vitamin B12 and where is it found? What supplements help with B12 deficiency? as well as answers to questions; Where does B12 deficiency come from? What food is highest in B12? what is vitamin b12, vitamin b12 intrinsic factor, We will learn about.

What is vitamin B12 and where is it found?

Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is essential in several physiological processes, such as red blood cell formation, so much so that it is the best-known anti-anaemic factor. Moreover, it is an essential vitamin for a healthy, well-functioning nervous system.

In fact, your body is not able to synthesise vitamin B12, but must necessarily take it in through food. Those who do not eat meat or follow a vegan diet may suffer from a vitamin B12 deficiency. In fact, it is found almost exclusively in foods of animal origin.

Learn more about why it is important and how to fill up with the right diet.

Vitamin B12: what is it?

Vitamin B12 owes its name to the presence of a Cobalt ion, while the isolated form is called cyanocobalamin due to the addition of a cyanide ion. This form, mostly extracted from natural sources and added to fortify many foods, is rapidly converted within the body to its natural form for easy absorption.

It was discovered during anaemia studies and first isolated in the liver. Understanding its particular chemical conformation earned British crystallographer Dorothy Hodgkin the Nobel Prize in 1964.

Vitamin B12: benefits and properties

The main biochemical role of vitamin B12 is to mediate DNA and RNA replication (along with folates), making cell renewal possible. It also comes into play in assisting isomerisation reactions in the metabolism of many molecules. Thus, these types of chemical reactions are important in the development and production of energy.

Vitamin B12 is crucial for optimal red blood cell development and is involved in homocysteine metabolism. In fact, it converts this amino acid, which if present in excess can cause cardiovascular damage, into methionine, a harmless amino acid, thus reducing the risk of heart attacks.

In addition, it is important for central nervous system function and the synthesis of dopamine and noradrenaline. The latter are compounds produced by the adrenal glands in response to situations of psychological and emotional stress.

All this results in a general feeling of well-being that can help one to be more focused and improve cognitive functions.

Vitamin B12 requirements

The LARN (Reference Intake Levels of Nutrients and Energy), in their 4th revision (2014), indicate 2.4 μg/day as the recommended population intake (PRI) of vitamin B12 for adults.

This value is recommended in both men and women, while in pregnancy it rises to 2.6 μg/day and in lactation to 2.8 μg/day to ensure optimal concentration of this vitamin in breast milk.

Vitamin B12-rich foods

Vitamin B12 is only synthesised in nature by certain microorganisms and is practically absent in plant sources, except from the microorganisms that inhabit their surface (e.g. it is found in breakfast cereals, but only 1 μg/100g), while animal sources are rich in it.

Since it is also partly synthesised by algae, we find small amounts in supplements or fortified foods used by vegans to supplement their diet.

In 100 grams, you find:

  • Liver (23 mcg/100g).
  • Bluefish (3 mcg/100g).
  • Herring (13 mcg/100g).
  • Salmon (16 mcg/100g).
  • Eggs (7 mcg/100g in the yolk).
  • Beef and Lamb (2 mcg/100g).
  • Milk and Milk Derivatives (2 mcg/100g).

Vitamin B12 deficiency risks
To date, B12 deficiencies in industrialised countries are quite rare. However, subjects particularly at risk are:

  • Elderly people.
  • Smokers.
  • Those who have undergone gastric or distal ileum resection.

In addition, pregnant women should consider appropriate supplementation, as should those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet.A

Vitamin B12 deficiency: the causes

Absorption of vitamin B12 takes place in the intestine, but only after binding with the intrinsic Castle factor produced in the stomach: this vitamin-factor union allows internalisation of the vitamin, which could not pass the intestinal barrier on its own.

For this reason, B12 deficiencies are not always primary, i.e. due to a low intake, but may also depend on secondary factors, such as genetic alterations that may lead to intrinsic factor deficiency or intestinal pathologies such as Crohn’s disease, coeliac disease or possible intestinal resections leading to inevitable malabsorption.

These deficits are very often associated with concomitant folate deficiencies, because these two vitamins are intimately biochemically linked. A high intake of folic acid very often tends to mask a cobalamin deficiency.

Vitamin B12 deficiency: symptoms

Important symptoms of deficiency are ‘megaloblastic’ anaemia, with unripe red blood cells, and neuropathy.

While in milder cases they can occur:

Confusion or mood alterations such as irritability or chronic depression.

Vitamin B12: supplementation in pregnancy

Pregnant or lactating women have a significantly increased need for B12 and folate. In these cases, a supplement is strongly recommended to avoid defects in the nervous system in the child.

Vitamin B12: how to supplement in a vegetarian or vegan diet

If you follow a vegan diet it is impossible to avoid vitamin B12 deficiencies, because this vitamin is only present in foods of animal origin. Algae are of little help in meeting daily requirements. The vitamin B12 contained in spirulina algae is only present in traces and not very bioavailable.

Vegetarians have a lower risk of deficiency because they can find B12 in foods such as milk and dairy products and eggs.

In the former case, supplementation is strongly recommended, in the latter case it may be useful if blood tests have shown the need.

The advice for supplementing vitamin B12 is to use both fortified foods and supplements.

In addition to taking supplements, vegans and vegetarians would be well advised to consume vegetable drinks fortified in B12, such as coconut, almond, rice or oat milk.

Since the absorption of B12 is linked to the intrinsic gastric factor, it is important to take supplements under medical supervision, so that the dosage can be studied and remodelled on the actual blood values over time.

Read our in-depth article on vegetarian diet: tips to make it balanced.

Vitamin B12: factors that may hinder absorption

It is important to beware of certain compounds that can decrease the bioavailability of B12, such as alcohol or vitamin C, which reduces its content in food.

Medications can also reduce the absorption of vitamin B12.

These include those that act at the gastric level such as proton pump inhibitors and antacids.

In fact, decreasing gastric acidity creates an imbalance in the pH of the stomach that does not allow optimal binding of B12 and intrinsic factor. Instead, binding is necessary for B12 to be then absorbed by the intestine.

Vitamin B12 against pernicious anaemia

Vitamin B12 is used as a treatment in those rare cases of pernicious anaemia, a form of anaemia caused by a deficit in the absorption of this vitamin.

Values of 1 mg orally are already able to give good results even in older subjects. In fact, such high values result in significant absorption of the vitamin regardless of the presence of the intrinsic factor.

Furthermore, as B12 is water-soluble, the risk of therapeutic overdosage is easily avoided. Should this occur, the vitamin would be readily excreted with the urine.

Therapy must be carried out under strict medical supervision. It is based on chronic oral or sublingual intake of the vitamin until blood values including MCV (mean corpuscular erythrocyte volume) are restored.

Vitamin B12 in cooking

Vitamin B12 is a heat-resistant vitamin, which means that cooking does not reduce its bioavailability. However, it is particularly sensitive to ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which is why it would be a good idea to avoid seasoning B12-rich foods with lemon or other citrus fruits.

There can be many recipes. However, in order to obtain important cobalamin supplies, it would be better to favour meat or fish main courses. Compared to cereal-based main courses, they are in fact richer in cobalamin.

Among meats, entrails (especially liver) are particularly rich in it, especially those of ox or sheep.

Among fish, we find large quantities of it in seafood (oysters, mussels), precisely because they are heavily populated by micro-organisms producing this vitamin, but be careful not to spoil everything with lemon!

A good recipe could therefore be a seared salmon fillet. Or you can prepare beef liver with fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut.

In fact, the fermentation process of many vegetables greatly increases the B12 content in food.

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